Tuesday, August 16, 2016

"Quilts and Human Rights" book

Here is a brand-new book, just published, which I purchased a couple weeks ago at the St. Louis Art Museum. "Quilts and Human Rights" is by Marsha MacDowell, Mary Worrall, Lynne Swanson, and Beth Donaldson, all specialists in folk art and cultural heritage, all located at the Michigan State University Museum. Desmond Tutu provides the forward.

My grandma belonged to a quilting circle, and I cherish two of her quilts. The authors of this book state that, along with different kinds of quilts and other folk art, the museum had a small collection of quilts having to do with human rights. They assembled more for an exhibition, and this book is another result of the collection. They write in the preface: "Textiles have been the expressive mode of choice for many women... As we delved into this arena of artist activism, we were astounded by the number of human rights quilts, the richness of stories associated with the quilts, the variety of visual expressions rendered by artists, and the growth of online communities connecting even greater numbers of individuals who use cloth and needles to address injustices and advance social change" (p. xiv). Many quilts memorialize individuals, while others have to do with workers' rights, crimes like rape and incest and domestic abuse as well as lynchings, and horrors like genocide, war, and ethnic cleansing. Quilts have much to say in areas like women's studies and material culture as well as art and human rights (p. xv).

Leafing through the book, I found numerous examples of powerful statements, like a quilt dedicated to the deposed and imprisoned Queen Lili'uokalani, Anita Hill, Rosa Parks, Nelson Mandela, a black woman who was lynched, another quilt that includes the names of the lynched in several states. Other quilts artistically depicted the Tuskegee syphilis study, South Africa's Cradock Four, the Holocaust, Tiananmen Square, the crisis in South Sudan, Selma's Bloody Sunday, women's suffrage,  resource scarcity in Zimbabwe and elsewhere---and numerous other topics and persons.

I recommend this book: it will prod your conscience, inform you of injustices worldwide, and inspire you to dedicate your own creativity to social witness and social change. (I do not know the authors and was not asked to write this review.)

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